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Viewpoint: Look after your apprentices now and they will look after you in the future

16 April 2020

Making the effort to support young staff during the current crisis will ensure a happy, permanent workforce for years to come. Adele Oxberry explains

The devastating impact of Covid-19 on the sector has far-reaching consequences. Not only has it caused incredible pain for hospitality businesses and employees, but it has the potential to leave a black mark against our sector if we are not careful about how we treat our people.

In the last year, there were more than 30,000 hospitality apprenticeships in the UK, with numbers predicted to increase prior to the coronavirus issue surfacing. Hospitality was leading the way.

Apprentices are of all ages. These people have chosen our sector to build their lives and careers, and have chosen hospitality over opportunities in other sectors. They have bought into what we do. They are the future.

Brexit (which now actually feels like light relief) is still around corner and the likelihood of a struggle for talent, at some stage soon, is still very real.

The threat of discontinued learning in the short term is disastrous for our apprentices. Apprenticeship training offers a sense of ‘normality' right now. We need to look after them or they will soon become disengaged.

In this current climate, defection to other sectors has become a major threat, with some industries becoming more appealing because of how the pandemic has created a new demand. Retail is an example – these sectors are showing that they can offer security even in times of crisis.

We need robust systems in place to support all our workforce going forward and the more novice the colleague, the more we need to prioritise them

How we treat our people now will be telling. Much has been said about the current younger generation and their need to feel secure and valued. This has never been more important – so we need to show them, as we were doing before the crisis, that they matter to us.

We need robust systems in place to support all our workforce and the more novice the colleague, the more we need to prioritise them. They need us all to protect them much more than before.

Since the issues really came to the fore a few weeks ago, we have been overwhelmed with calls from apprentices looking for support. The impact on everyone, financially and emotionally, has been huge. The threat of not being allowed to continue learning has become a significant cause for concern, and one that we are raising with each of their employers to see if we can collaboratively work up a plan of action.

We know that this could be a major turning point in their lives, so we aim to be as supportive as is possible.

We urge people to do what they can to support both the mental health of their people initially and then their career development.

During conversations with employers, we've advised them to keep talking to their apprentices. We've showed apprentices how to keep up with their apprenticeship training, even during furlough. This is helping them begin to come to terms with what is going on.

The fact that the government is actively encouraging continuous learning while on furlough speaks volumes. The industry needs to continue to look at creating a sustainable platform for the future and skills development sits at the heart of our recovery.

To support our apprentices, we've set up online learning environments that have an energy and buzz, keeping everyone engaged.

Our chef apprentices are all attending online cooking lectures and training sessions. We've created competitions for them where they cook a meal with contents they have in the cupboard and a spending cap to feed the whole family.

Apprentice managers are using this time to look at crisis management and how to implement a social distancing strategy for the foreseeable future. So many ideas are being developed. Community volunteering is being encouraged and supported as well.

Let's not forget – hospitality will be back on its feet again when the restrictions are lifted. We need to hit the ground running.

Let's also remember that there is a whole pool of school leavers who need to know that our sector is a great place to work. We can only prove this by treating people well now. Progressive businesses are looking at skills development and mental health support now – these will be crucial for our strong return.

We have never had the time like we have now. Keep training today – it will help all of our tomorrows.

Adele Oxberry is founder of Umbrella Training

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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